Harvey’s Rainfall Totals

Hurricane Harvey landed north of Corpus Christi, Texas late Friday night. By Monday morning, Houston has been flooded as nearly two feet of water have fallen upon the city, built on and around wetlands long ago paved over with concrete. Naturally the news has covered this story in depth all weekend. Even leading up to it, when I was still posting eclipse things, various outlets had projections and why we should care graphics. But as the storm begins to move back into the Gulf—only to move back inland tomorrow—I wanted to compare some of the graphics I have been seeing.

Of course, not all graphics are the same, let alone cover the same things. So this morning we are looking at just the rainfall total maps of a few different outlets.

From the Washington Post, we have the following graphic.

The Post's rainfall graphic
The Post’s rainfall graphic

The palette chosen performs well at quickly scaling up to the record level of rainfall, i.e. the 20+ inches realm, but quickly shifting from the green–blue palette into dark purples.

Then we have the Wall Street Journal’s graphic.

The Journal's graphic
The Journal’s graphic

Here we have a more familiar blue–red diverging spectrum. The point of divergence set to 20 inches.

Lastly, we have the New York Times graphic. Though in this case, it’s not an exact like-for-like comparison. I could not find a graphic mapping total rainfall, instead this is for projected rainfall totals. But the design is for the same type of map, i.e. how much rain falls in a location.

The Times' graphic
The Times’ graphic

The Post takes the closest approach to the true continuous spectrum palette, where the shift from dry to drenched is gradual. It makes for a smoother, more blended looking map. Somewhere around that 20 inch point, however, the palette shifts from the green to blue range to purple. It emphasises the record-hitting point, but otherwise the totals are presented as more fluid. Perhaps correctly since rain does not neatly fall evenly into pixels.

By comparison, the Journal segments the rainfall totals into bins of blues. The scale is not even, the lighter blues incorporate two inches, the darkers upwards of five. And then again, like the Post, separate 20+ as a different colour, here switching to reds.

Lastly the Times keeps to a simple segmented bin palette of all blues. 20+ inches is rendered is just a dark blue.

Each map has pluses, each has minuses. The Times map, for example, is simple and quick to understand. Southeastern Texas will be wet by the middle of next week. If your goal is only to communicate that point, well this map has done its job. It is worth noting, again, that this is a map of projections. Because the other thing missing from this map is the storm’s path. So if the goal were to showcase the rainfall along the storm’s path, well this graphic does not accomplish that nearly as well as the other two.

The Post and the Journal both show the track of the storm. The Journal takes it one step further and plots its projected course through Thursday. This helps us really see if not understand the east side problem of hurricanes. That is, the eastern quadrants of hurricanes typically experience the heaviest amounts of rain. And as the darker portions of the map all fall to the north and east of those lines, it reaffirms this for us.

So what really differentiates the two? The colour palette and its application. The Post’s palette is more natural as, again, rain does not fall neatly into bins and instead makes for blurred and messy totals across a map. Separating the heaviest rains into the purples, however, makes a lot of sense as that amount of rainfall, as we are seeing this morning, makes for a mess in Houston.

But the point of a graphic is to translate nature and the observed into a digestible and pointed statement of the observed. What should I learn? Why should I care? The Journal, like the Post, does a fantastic job of splitting out the 20+ inch totals by using a divergent palette. But instead of blending into that colour, the distinction is sharp. And then below that threshold, we get rainfall totals segmented into just a few bins. These help the reader see, also more starkly because of the selection of the specific blues, just where the bands of heavy rain will fall.

I do want to point out, however, that all of these maps occur in articles with lots of other fantastic graphics that visually explore lots of details about the story. And in particular, I want to highlight that the normal bit where I state the credits includes a lot of people. Creating a whole host of graphics to support a story takes a lot of work.

Credit for the Washington Post piece goes to Darla Cameron, Samuel Granados, Chris Alcantara, and Gabriel Florit.

Credit for the Wall Street Journal piece goes to Bradley Olson, Arian Campo-Flores, Miguel Bustillo, Dan Frosch, Erin Ailworth, Christopher M. Matthews, and Russell Gold.

Credit for the New York Times piece goes to Gregor Aisch, Sarah Almukhtar, Jeremy Ashkenas, Matthew Bloch, Joe Burgess, Audrey Carlsen, Ford Fessenden, Troy Griggs, K.K. Rebecca Lai, Jasmine C. Lee, Jugal K. Patel, Adam Pearce, Bedel Saget, Anjali Singhvi, Joe Ward, and Josh Williams.

Alaskan (im)Permafrost

I woke up this morning and before breakfast I opened the door to bring in today’s edition of the New York Times. I enjoy reading the paper, or at least a few articles, over breakfast (and more often than not preparing a post for here at Coffeespoons.me). Some of the best days are when I open the door and find a giant piece of data visualisation there above the fold. Other images, for example the other day’s eclipse coverage, also strike me, but as someone who visualises data as part of his career, I particularly enjoy things like maps. (I should point out I also do editorial design, so things like this layout are even closer to the intersection of my interests.)

Lo and behold, this morning I opened the door and we had the shrinking permafrost of Alaska this morning.

Now that is basically it. I have a crop of the map at the end here, but the map was the extent of the data visualisation in the article. Indeed, other articles in today’s edition carried more interesting graphics—I took photos to hopefully circle back—but the nerd I am, I really do get a kick finding a paper like this in the morning.

The graphic itself occupies half the space above the fold and the bright cyan and magenta steal the user’s attention. Even the headlines of the other articles recede behind the Alaska maps.

White space around the maps subtly helps focus attention on the piece. To be fair, the shape of Alaska with its archipelagos and bays along with the southeast extension help to create that space. A more squarish shape, say Colorado, would not quite have the same effect.

If I had to critique anything, I might have placed the city labels, especially Fairbanks, and the state label elsewhere to enhance their legibility. But at that point, I’m really just quibbling around the edges.

Red means it's warming up
Red means it’s warming up

Credit for the piece goes to Jeremy White.

Gowanus, Brooklyn

This past weekend I was reading an article in the New York Times about how a diary from the 19th century may indicate a plot in Gowanus Brooklyn destined for development may contain an old slave burial ground. You may recall how this author’s hobbies include genealogy and family history—how I would love to find a 19th century diary. Then, given this interest and the article, it was fantastic to find a map in the article.

Brooklyn in black and white
Brooklyn in black and white

Suffice it to say the map held my fascination for long enough that I saved the paper to post about it today. I was curious about two things, however, one, did the graphic have a credited author—it did not in the print edition—and two, was there a neat interactive version in the online version? The online version is simply a colour version of the map.

Brooklyn, now in colour
Brooklyn, now in colour

But the colour version does one thing that really helps make the graphic complete. In the print edition, there is no clear idea what the different layers are and it did take me a moment or two to understand the overlay. But the online version calls out specifically the map of the area from two different time periods.

Maps like these are my favourite. They blend history and the present. After all the places we live have often been lived in for centuries and they bear the marks of that inhabitance.

As to the first question, credit for the piece goes to Joe Burgess.

Shifting Temperatures

This past weekend, I came upon a neat little graphic in the New York Times supporting an article about the impact of climate change on temperatures. The article basically lays out the argument that summers are getting hotter. And as a cold-weather person, that is dreadful news.

Can we not shift a wee bit the other way please?
Can we not shift a wee bit the other way please?

But the good news is the graphic was well done. It uses the outline of the baseline data as a constant juxtaposition against the date interval examined. And the colour breaks remain in place to show that compared to what we consider “normal”, we are seeing a shift to the higher end of the spectrum.

Credit for the piece goes to the New York Times graphics department.

The Grenfell Fire

This weekend, the New York Times published an online piece explaining the spread of the Grenfell Tower fire in London. The story uses small animated graphics and videos to show the origin and progression of the fire from an exploding refrigerator on the fourth floor to its trapping of residents on the 23rd and final floor.

Where it began
Where it began

 

Credit for the piece goes to Troy Griggs, Mika Gröndahl, Josh Keller, Jamine C. Lee, Anjali Singhvi, Megan Specia, Derek Watkins, and Jeremy White.

The Insurance Exchanges

There is a lot to unpack about last Thursday and Sunday. But before we dive into that, a little story from the New York Times that caught my eye from Friday.

Where there are no real options
Where there are no real options

The map shows the counties in the United States where there is one health insurer and no health insurer. Further on in the piece a small multiple gallery shows that progression from 2014 and highlights how the drastic changes are seen only in 2017 and 2018.

The problem is often not that people cannot buy insurance if no insurers are in the marketplace. The marketplace is for federally-subsidised coverage and insureres appear to be moving to offering policies outside the marketplace for non-subsidised customers.

The White House claims Obamacare is in a death spiral. It is not. But after seven years it could use a little maintenance.

Credit for the piece goes to Haeyoun Park and Audrey Carlsen.

Rising Rate of US Drug Deaths

While today’s post is not an uplifting story, I did find it remarkable in its presentation. Nothing too fancy or revolutionary to be certain, but remarkable nonetheless. What was it? This morning when I picked up the Times there was a chart in black and red, above the fold, below the cover photo.

The story is about the rising number of deaths in the United States attributed to drugs. And, no, the line chart is not groundbreaking—though I do love the way the designers cut into the space to efficiently set copy and annotations. But as an above-the-fold graphic this morning, it did the trick.

Again, I like the layout of the piece
Again, I like the layout of the piece

Credit for the piece goes to Josh Katz.

Maps and Legends

First, great song by R.E.M.

Second, you may recall a post last week where I shared some work by FiveThirtyEight about life expectancy. In particular I liked the set of small multiples. However, the New York Times just took what I liked and upped it a slight notch.

Maybe he's caught in the legend…
Maybe he’s caught in the legend…

Every small multiple set needs a legend to explain just what the user is looking at. What the Times did is integrate that legend into the Alaska multiple. And it can do that because of Alaska’s position in the upper-left, or northwest, portion of the “map” as a non-contiguous part of the United States.

Clever.

Credit for the piece goes to the New York Times graphics department.

Trump’s Polling

My battery is about to die this morning and I don’t have my charger so this is going to be a shorter piece than usual. But I wanted to look back on the 100 Day polling that the New York Times posted. It does paint an interesting picture of somebody so polarising that Trump is probably safe despite being one of the least favourably viewed presidents in modern times. Why? Because his supporters are so fervently loyal.

Not only is Trump low, he's low historically
Not only is Trump low, he’s low historically

But that piece is almost a month old now. And so I wanted to point out something that FiveThirtyEight is doing—a running tracker of Trump’s polling. I am sure I will return to it in the future, after all we have over three and a half years to go until the next four year presidential term begins.

Trump is pretty low…
Trump is pretty low…

Credit for the piece goes to Karen Yourish and Paul Murray for the Times and Aaron Bycoffe, Dhrumil Mehta, and Nate Silver for FiveThirtyEight.

Where in the World Is North Korea?

Donald Trump and I have one thing in common today. Boy are we both glad today is finally Friday—what a week.

So in that vein, let us keep it semi-light today with a piece from the New York Times that I saw earlier this week. Before we share the screenshot, however, I should point out that there have been studies showing a relationship between knowing who is where in the world and an understanding that geopolitics are complex and messy. From the article:

Geographic knowledge itself may contribute to an increased appreciation of the complexity of geopolitical events.

So when it comes to North Korea, there are interesting correlations between policy options and people who could either find or not find North Korea on a map. The article is really worth the read.

But enough, where did users click to identify the location of North Korea?

North Korea, it's also where Carmen Sandiego has been hiding alongside Waldo all these years
North Korea, it’s also where Carmen Sandiego has been hiding alongside Waldo all these years

Yeah.

I wonder where Donald Trump clicked…

Credit for the piece goes to Kevin Quealy.